If you are trying to reduce sugar in your diet, you may be tempted to turn to artificial sweeteners, which please the taste buds but promise zero calories. But are they safe? Artificial sweeteners and sugar substitutes are often the topic of heated debate.
Negative effects of artificial sweeteners may include the following:
- People who use artificial sweeteners may have a false sense of security about their daily sugar intake and indulge in fattening foods such as pastries and chocolate.
- Artificial sweeteners are more intense in taste than sugar, meaning frequent consumption could overstimulate your sugar receptors and decrease your desire for healthier foods like vegetables.
- Research suggests that people who use artificial sweeteners habitually tend to gain more weight, due to the fact that they develop more cravings for sweets and end up choosing unhealthy foods as a result.
- Animal studies have suggested that artificial sweeteners may be addictive. So when you start, you may not be able to give up artificial sweeteners as easily as you think.
There is also some evidence that the artificial sweetener aspartame may cause side effects such as headache and depression in some people.
How safe are artificial sweeteners?
Artificial sweeteners come under the category of food additives. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the following sugar substitutes before making them available in the market:
- Acesulfame K (brand names: Sunett and Sweet One)
- Aspartame (brand names: Equal and Nutrasweet)
- Neotame (brand name: Newtame)
- Saccharin (brand names: Sweet ‘N Low and Sweet Twin)
- Sucralose (brand name: Splenda)
Some sugar substitutes are “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) and do not require FDA approval, meaning qualified experts agree on the scientific evidence that these products are safe for consumption in recommended amounts. These products include:
- Highly purified stevia extracts sold under Pure Via and Truvia
- Monk fruit extracts (two brand names: Monk Fruit in the Raw and PureLo)
Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners do not play a role in causing tooth decay and cavities. And there has been no evidence that artificial sweeteners can increase the risk of cancer.
Based on safety studies, artificial sweeteners are considered generally safe in limited quantities, even for pregnant women. You should, however, avoid them if you have phenylketonuria or are allergic to a chemical substance called sulfonamides.
All FDA-approved artificial sweeteners have an acceptable daily intake (ADI). ADI represents the maximum amount of a particular artificial sweetener that can be consumed each day with no health risks. These have been decided based on an analysis of all studies conducted on that artificial sweetener.
Are there benefits to using artificial sweeteners?
While there are potential negative effects to consuming artificial sweeteners, there are also potential benefits:
- Weight loss: If you are trying to either maintain or lose weight and still want to appease your sweet tooth, artificial sweeteners may be an option to add to your coffee or other foods. Although their effectiveness for long-term weight loss isn't clear, they do offer zero calories, in contrast to sugary products that contain 16 to 20 calories per teaspoon.
- Diabetes: Unlike sugar, artificial sweeteners are not carbohydrates and do not increase your blood sugar levels. If you have diabetes, ask your doctor before including any sugar substitutes in your diet.
Although artificial sweeteners may be an attractive alternative to sugar, remember to consume them in moderation as per ADI limits. If you suspect that they are causing problems, try eliminating them from your diet to see if that resolves your symptoms. For additional concerns, consult your doctor.
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Nutrition and healthy eating: Artificial sweeteners and other sugar substitutes. https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/artificial-sweeteners/art-20046936
Artificial Sweeteners Side Effects and Chart. https://www.medicinenet.com/artificial_sweeteners/article.htm
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